Super Smiles, a local charity which provides oral health education and support for children and their families, has called for urgent screening of primary schoolchildren eligible for government dental care. The charity said that before the pandemic struck, children in the Island already had limited access to dental care, with lengthy waits for appointments.
The ‘current situation really is unacceptable’, according to the charity’s co-founder, Sarah Pollard, with parents ‘desperate for support and help’.
She has written to the Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel to highlight their concerns.
Mrs Pollard said that thousands of children were waiting for both routine and restorative dental treatment, adding that the current system provided by the government ‘does not support the most vulnerable children, is not prevention-focused and does not support the wider community in Jersey’.
‘The current situation is not transparent and does not allow parents to make an informed choice to possibly seek private dental health care, thus increasing the burden on the department,’ she said.
There is only one full-time dentist and one part-time dentist working in the community department, Mrs Pollard said.
She continued: ‘Oral health inequalities are now far greater than before the pandemic.
‘The impact of Covid-19 on oral health is more severely felt by those who were already likely to have poorer health outcomes, raising concerns about the creation and exacerbation of oral-health inequalities.
‘However, it would be a mistake to only target the low-income families. Risk of disease is not a fixed outcome but is subject to change. Covid-19 has been a catalyst for this change in dental-health risk for many children from all socio-economic backgrounds.’
Several key areas require ‘immediate attention’ to help reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the oral health of children, and reduce the inequalities currently being experienced, according to the charity.
These include urgent screening for primary schoolchildren eligible for dental care offered by the government and a focused approach to dental care, with
work carried out on prioritised children only.
Mrs Pollard said her charity had had ‘very limited engagement’ with the Health Department over the years, and added that her organisation had the capacity ‘with fully trained staff to provide an oral-health programme to all nursery and primary schoolchildren’.
Mrs Pollard also said that she had noticed children who previously had good dental health with their first teeth ‘presenting with multiple cavities in their secondary teeth’, which she called ‘quite unusual’.
‘I suspect the causes are multi-factorial but a lack of regular routine care and fluoride application, together with an increase in sugar consumption, has contributed to this,’ she said.